By Andrew J. Patrick
Special to The Dagger
Eventually, every theater company must confront the reality that there are certain shows people will come out to see, in droves. People like Annie. People like A Christmas Carol. And people, for reasons I don’t quite follow, like Steel Magnolias.
I’ve never gotten it, myself. To me, the show about a bevy of southern friends waxing emotional in a local beauty parlor is a ballet of clichés: Chaos on the Wedding Day, Fear at the Unplanned Pregnancy, Resolution in the Face of Tragedy. Even the characters can seem as one-dimensional as Disney comic relief: Mommy, Sickly, Sassy, Naughty, Grumpy, and Churchy.
Even the play’s premise, that it offers a window on the lives of women among women, seems belied by just how much talking about the men in their lives they do (just as men among men always find ways to talk about women). And the talk rarely yields action: the actual events of Steel Magnolias, the actual weddings, births, and deaths all happen offstage. Truvy’s beauty parlor is where the women come to talk about what has already happened.
And yet, the house at the Churchville Unitarian Fellowship was filled to capacity, and the cast received a standing ovation for their efforts. So what do I know? Marriage, birth, death, friendships, second chances, bad jokes, good jokes, and good hair are the minutia of life. People know and respond to them. All that’s needed is a production that makes them feel real, which Boom’s current production achieves.
Believability for Steel Mags depends on a certain comedic rhythm, getting the ooze and bite of southern dialect just right. Too much gallop and an audience of Yankees can’t follow the dialogue; too little, and the humor is lost. Success can thus be judged on the number of laughs garnered, which were plentiful. Even myself, well familiar with the punch-lines, guffawed well more than I expected to.
Certain members of the cast stand out. Jennifer Hasselbusch brought a winsome vulnerability to Annelle, needy without being unctuous. Lisa Coyne overcame my biases against her (she’s not quite old enough to play septuagenerian Clairee) with some honestly amusing moments. And Judy Scott managed a powerful combination of concern and puissance as M’Lynn, which changes to grief and resolution as the play ends.
This is not to suggest that the rest of the cast was deficient. Kayleigh Daniels is utterly likeable as the youthful Shelby, and Dawn Roles proved entirely suited to the light-hearted Truvy. Linda Bratcher’s Oiser was dry and slow – a departure from the usual resucitation of Shirley McClaine’s tightly-wound portrayal. Sometimes I found it odd, but when it worked, it brought the house down.
There were, off course, problems. Occasionally the cast seemed off-pace, hiccupped, unsure. At times the ad-libbed background noise whenever someone used the phone in the other room was distracting. But these were minor. Overall, the actors did exactly what they needed to do: leaven the heavy anxieties of life with humor. If you can enjoy or use that (and who doesn’t, from time to time?), Boom has what you need.